Judge: Don't speak with media on case pitting oldest US synagogue against 1st US congregation

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A federal judge has told lawyers for the oldest synagogue in the United States and the nation's first Jewish congregation not to speak with the media about lawsuits they've brought against each other.

U.S. District Judge William Smith is trying to mediate a settlement between the Touro Synagogue in Newport and Congregation Shearith (SHEE'-ah-rith) Israel in New York City.

Clerk of Court David DiMarzio said Friday that Smith is following court procedures, and the process would be undermined unless the parties maintain confidentiality.

The dispute began when the Touro Synagogue agreed to sell a set of Torah finial bells from Colonial times for $7.4 million to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Congregation Shearith Israel says it owns the bells, as well as the synagogue.